Blog written by Sarah Johnson, Community Relations, Tuck Sleep
In the modern digital world, many children spend more time than ever in front of a screen. There’s also an increase in the number of sleep disorders amongst children. While digital learning has its place, the benefits of learning outside the standard classroom environment have more than an academic impact. Turning off the screens helps children sleep better, which in turn enhances learning, mood, and overall health.
School-age children need anywhere from nine to twelve hours of sleep each day. Without adequate rest, more than their attention spans suffer. The immune system doesn’t work at full capacity, which leads to more illnesses that last longer. Concentration and short-term memory are reduced, making it hard for sleep-deprived children to reach their full academic, and sometimes social, potential. Mood and behavioral control also suffer. Consequently, lack of sleep can lead to cranky, distracted children who have a hard time paying attention.
However, there are ways to help your child get more of the high-quality sleep he needs be happy, healthy, and successful.
Too Much Screen Time
Today’s children spend, on average, six and a half hours on a screen. While some of that time may be spent learning at school or doing homework, a good portion is spent playing video games, on social media, or chatting with friends. That much screen time has a detrimental effect on your child’s ability to sleep at night.
Circadian rhythms control the sleep-wake cycle. These rhythms rely on natural light to time the release of sleep-inducing hormones. The bright blue light from televisions, e-readers, smartphones, and laptops suppresses the release of melatonin. Essentially, the brain thinks it’s time to be awake. Teens are more susceptible to blue light than adults, so it wouldn’t be unexpected for a teenager to be up far later than usual after playing video games or texting friends. Turning off the screens at least an hour before bed can your child get better sleep.
Send Them Outside
Outside play has incredible benefits for a child’s sleep. The physical exertion alone helps them to feel more tired at night. Rather than sitting in front of the screen using a minimal amount of energy, your child can run, play, and create, which builds strong muscles and bones while helping to wear out his body for better sleep. Outside play also stimulates the brain and promotes healthy social relationships.
Physical exertion, like playing outside and exercising, not only makes your child more tired but also helps to establish healthy circadian rhythms. Time spent out in the sun keeps the brain on track for a regular sleep-wake cycle.
An Australian study found that for every hour children spent working on screens, their sleep suffered. Each hour of screen time led to shorter sleep duration, taking longer to fall asleep and being less likely to sleep more than 10 hours. Conversely, sending children outside may improve children’s sleep patterns. Since children retain information more easily and control their moods better with more sleep, sending them out to play instead of staying inside may improve their ability to perform academically.
Better Sleep Through Good Habits
While reducing screen time and encouraging more outdoor play are helpful to better sleep, some kids may need more. Start by making sure your child’s bedroom supports healthy sleep. Find a mattress that is supportive and free of lumps or sags. Even an air mattress can be a good choice if it’s comfortable at night. During the night, keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.
It’s also important to keep a consistent bedtime. If your child has a hard time falling asleep at night, try implementing a bedtime routine to help signal the brain to release sleep hormones. Any calming activity like reading a book, listening to quiet music, or singing a song can help quiet the mind and body. Just be sure to stick to the routine and start it at the same time every evening.
About the Author
Sarah Johnson- Community Relations for Tuck Sleep
Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.